Saturday, December 03, 2016
A three-story synagogue on Martin Luther King Drive is at the center of a controversy in a rapidly changing inner-city neighborhood.
The leader of the area's business group has asked the city to shut down the shul, pointing to zoning laws that largely do not permit houses of worship along Martin Luther King Drive. Members of the Hasidic Jewish community are objecting, and tell The Jersey Journal the location is a community center, not a formal synagogue.
The tussle comes as the historically black neighborhood has become more attractive to Hasidic Jews who say they have been priced out of Brooklyn. They say the Martin Luther King Drive location is a temporary meeting place as they make plans for a larger, more formal synagogue.
Michele Massey is a former councilwoman who runs the Jackson Hill Main Street Management Corp., which oversees the commercial strip running along Martin Luther King Drive and Monticello Avenue. Massey wrote a letter last month asking city zoning officials to look into the synagogue, located at 221 Martin Luther King Dr.
Massey said she fears allowing the synagogue to remain would set a precedent for others to open houses of worship in the commercial district. She said her mission is to make the area thrive commercially, and not to target any faith-based group.
"Race, cultural or religious beliefs are not the issue," Massey told The Jersey Journl. "The issue is simple, following the zoning law established by the redevelopment plan. If there is no enforcement, then what is the point creating the zoning?"
A new redevelopment plan for the area approved earlier this year forbids new houses of worship except on one Martin Luther King Drive block, the Sacred Heart Church property located across the street from the synagogue.
Rabbi Shaul Dushinsky, 52, told The Jersey Journal that worshipers may call the Martin Luther King Drive location a synagogue, but the word is used to describe any place more than a handful of worshipers gather.
"Whenever we say synagogue, we mean where we can pray," said David Gottlieb, 30, a Hasidic Jew who moved to Randolph Avenue from Brooklyn about five months ago.
The city said it is siding with Massey.
"We agree with Jackson Hill and the city has asked zoning inspectors to meet with synagogue leadership to explain to them that current zoning doesn't allow houses of worship in that area," city spokeswoman Jennifer Morrill.
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